Sick and spotted (Australian Doctor 13 July 2012)

July 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

In 1932 Bertrand Russell wrote the essay In Praise of Idleness. He proposed a four-hour working day and optimistically hoped that “Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine”.

Russell also supported sick leave for all workers, not just more asylum time for Nietzsche.

Taking days off is a dilemma. I can recall a patient who probably died because I took a sick day.

Mind you, other patients might have survived because I haven’t worked.

I saw a medical student with a cold this morning. He wanted to know if he should keep seeing hospital patients. I explained that seeing patients would be no problem; however, touching and breathing on them might be.

Last week, I wasn’t well either. On Wednesday night I developed a feral illness with high fever, piercing headache, vomiting and photophobia.

I didn’t think to check for neck stiffness — but my neck did feature a purpuric rash.

A day earlier, before I got sick, clinic nurses had seen these skin haemorrhages and laughed that they were stigmata of passion. In reality, the marks were a bizarre injury inflicted by an agitated friend stammering: “How much can a Koala Bear?”

True (p<0.05).

But enough of that, and more about idleness.

A lazy day at home revealed an unexpected insight: the headache was worse lying down.

I got a second opinion on viral meningitis from Dr Google (yes, he’s my doctor too) who wanted to check my blood pressure.

The automatic cuff wouldn’t inflate. The batteries were flat, as was every battery in the house. I got frustrated and started softly singing “Spot it”.

“Spot it” is sung to the tune of the Spot the Dog cartoon theme. The words are simplified for the sick and tone deaf.

In fact, “Spot it” has just two words, one being “it”. The other isn’t “spot” but it does have four letters and is commonly used when frustrated.

I noticed a flutter in the corner of my eye. It was the Ethereal Angel, one of my chronologically adult sons, making a rare daytime outing from his bedroom. His gossamer wings were hanging limply. He was not yet fully awake, so his body was translucent against the furniture as if he were on a Windows 7 desktop.

“Are you okay?” he asked. He knew his Dad sings only on special occasions.

“Sure,” I muttered. He floated off.

I used a manual cuff. Spot it, only 120 systolic. My head throbbed with disappointment at the normal reading. I hate wasted effort.

I returned to work the next day. The headache was bearable until the fire alarms went off. Once the cacophony settled, a patient sat down and happily exclaimed: “The ringing’s gone!”

I started talking about alarms but she looked slightly puzzled. Her notes revealed I’d seen her a week earlier complaining about tinnitus. Spot it. Another little error.

One day I might give away this game. It is, however, unlikely to be for the same reason Russell said he gave up philosophy: “Because I discovered spotting.”

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